Thursday, December 29, 2005

The 2005 Senate Weasel of The Year Award

Well, a long year has come and gone in the United States Senate, with countless committee meetings, thousands of issues considered and finally coming down to the 366 roll call votes taken on the Senate floor in 2005.

As we are inclined to do, we watch all of those votes and, throughout the year, have endeavored to keep you apprised of who's been living the Democratic creed and which of our brethren reach across the aisle so often they practically live on the other side. We've done that with the monthly Senate Weasel Meter, in which we've charted the number of times that a Democratic Senator has voted with the GOP on a major issue.

We expect Republicans to make votes that don't help people, the environment or generally serve the public good so, by definition, they won't appear here as weasel-like behavior on their part is a given. We expect better of Democratic Senators.

Also known as DINOs (Democrat In Name Only), Democratic Weasels are those who frequently forget what party they belong to and who often lose direction on their moral compass and social conscience.

And, we're now prepared to announced the winner of the ignominious Yellow Dog Blog Senate Weasel of The Year Award.

First, as we always do, let's go to for our definition of terms:


intr.v. wea·seled, also wea·selled wea·sel·ing, wea·sel·ling wea·sels, wea·sels

To be evasive; equivocate.

Phrasal Verb: weasel out (Informal). To back out of a situation or commitment in a sneaky or cowardly manner.

Throughout 2005, I have selected the 50 roll call votes that I believe truly required Democrats to stand with their party and, while you could argue the relative importance of one vote or another, I believe the list sums it up pretty well. You can go here to see, based on our own liberal criteria, what this year's significant, bellwether votes have been.

So, enough with the suspense: Who was the biggest Democratic turncoat in the Senate this year? If you jump to conclusions and assume that literally playing kissy-face with George W. Bush all year, makes the race begin and end with Joe Lieberman (DINO-CT), you would be very wrong. While I was shocked at the results myself, Lieberman amassed only seven weasel-worthy votes all year for a reach-across-the-aisle rating of only 14 percent.

But, no matter how repugnant Lieberman's pro-war stance has been to us, that's not nearly enough to win the Weasel Award, which is based on a solid body of weaselly work and not just on a couple of major instances of shameful conduct.

So who would meet that standard? Who would vote with George W. Bush and the GOP so often that there are actually Republican Senators who have a better record of voting in a "Democratic" way?

It's Ben Nelson, of my own home state of Nebraska!

Nelson's work on behalf of the Republican party would be impressive, were it not so downright disgusting and infuriating. Blowing away the competition with a whopping 41 GOP votes – for an 82 percent weasel rating – Nelson voted with Bill Frist on most critical issues including the following:
  • Voted for the Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act of 2005
  • Voted for cloture and for an end to debate on John Bolton and to deny Democrats information they requested.
  • Voted for the Dominican Republic-Central America-United States Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA)
  • Voted for the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act -- AKA, the NRA bill
  • Voted for Energy Policy Act of 2005
  • Voted no on bill to provide funding for interoperable communications equipment grants for first responders
  • Voted no on general relief bill for Katrina victims that included a critical exemption from new bankruptcy laws to take effect in October.
  • Voted to confirm John Roberts as Chief Justice of Supreme Court
  • Voted twice against money to provide for the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program.
  • Voted against increasing the maximum Federal Pell Grant award by $200
  • Voted against increasing appropriations for Head Start programs
  • Voted against funding for the AIDS Drug Assistance Program within the Health Resources and Services Administration.
  • Voted for Republican budget reconciliation bill (the one Democrats tried to rename the “Moral Disaster of Monumental Proportion Reconciliation Act”)
  • Voted against establishing a national commission on policies and practices on the treatment of detainees since September 11, 2001.
  • Voted against providing for judicial review of detention of enemy combatants.
  • Voted against sense of the Senate amendment concerning the provision of health care for children before providing tax cuts for the wealthy.
  • Voted for the Tax Relief Act of 2005
  • Voted to invoke cloture (end filibuster) on USA PATRIOT Improvement and Reauthorization Act of 2005
And that's less than half of his bad votes.

Somehow Nelson found it in his heart to vote with Democrats against the Bush budget which was recently passed by a 51-50 vote, with Dick Cheney breaking the tie – but that's only because Nelson was afraid that going against the Democratic leadership on that one might get him shanked in the Senate cloakroom.

You can get a full synopsis of Nelson's weasel-worthy votes here.

Here's how the top five weasels looked at year-end along with their number of lousy votes:
  • Ben Nelson (D-NE) 41
  • Mary Landrieu (D-LA) 19
  • Kent Conrad (D-ND) 18
  • Max Baucus (D-MT) 17
  • Mark Pryor (D-AR) 17
Mary Landrieu, who had a front-row seat for how this administration treated her people in Louisiana after Hurricane Katrina, is our runner-up weasel for 2005. Barely edging out Conrad, Baucus and Pryor as vice-weasel, Landrieu voted with Team Bush on the Bankruptcy bill, drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, confirmation of Priscilla Owen, the NRA gun bill and for continued tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans.

Nasty Stuff.

Now, I'm not saying we need to run these people out of the Democratic party entirely. What I am saying is that, like any good football team, we're only as good as our weakest link and these are the "positions" for which we need help in the next draft (primary season).

While I'm not hoping that Senator Nelson gets runs down by a feed truck on a Nebraska country road, I am hopeful that, even in the reddest of the red states, we can at least begin electing Democrats who vote with us more often than do some moderate Republicans.

That's the Weasel Award for this year. On Monday, we'll begin the new year on a positive note and pay homage to the anti-weasels – liberal Senators who consistently make us proud to be Democrats.